Ten years ago, fourteen of us gathered round a table and spread into the living room of our townhouse on Brookwood Drive. We filled our plates and shared the first of many potlucks. Stuffed, we pulled our chairs into a circle, passed out the sheets for evening prayers and flowed into the simplest rhythm: week after week, we prayed, we heard the gospel, we shared our stories. The highlight for me was how one person per evening would narrate whatever piece of their life they were able to offer. We received sadness and joy, confusion and hope. Our chafed leather couch (the one friends over the years dubbed ‘the crying couch’) sat against the window, welcoming new tears, more laughter. We practiced what one writer called ‘verbal hospitality.’ And for a decade now, we’ve been doing our darnedest to stay true to that circle, that table, those prayers, those stories.
It’s baffling how that meager gathering could plant the seed for the beauty and goodness All Souls has become. Markus Barth said the church is the “theater of God’s works.” At this decade mark, I’m filled to the brim with gratitude for how God has displayed such immense kindness, such generosity, to a community of friends who wanted to learn how to both drink in and pour out God’s love.
They say one of our best prayers is the simplest: thank you. So, from a deep place of bewilderment and delight: God,thank you.
Our church has a prayer we pray over one another every other Sunday. We pray this prayer just before the closing blessing, just before we walk out into God’s bright world to be God’s bright people. I’m not sure we know the power of what we’re praying, the hope in what we’re asking. But then, I think that’s the truth for most good prayers.
God, make your kingdom come in us, for the sake of your world. May we love you with our whole heart and love our neighbors as ourselves. May your cross carry us to die to selfish pursuits, and may your resurrection raise us to new life and radical love. Send us into your world in the name of the Father who created us, the Son who loves us and the Spirit who guides us. Amen.
The lawyer raises the question for us: What must we do to truly live with God? The Scriptures tell us to love God with all our heart But my heart loves so many other things Love God with all our soul But I have so many competing desires Love God with all our strength But my energy and my passion is divided Love God with all our mind But my mind feels too powerful or too broken to be a place of love Love, not only God – but also our neighbor, even as we love ourselves But who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is whoever God has brought near to us. Then we will love our God who has come near to us and our neighbor God has brought near to us In this way, we will love our God With all of our heart, our soul, our strength and our mind. And then, people of God, we will truly live.
And a blessing in response to Ephesians 2:11-12
To all who have known what is to be far Far from love Far from hope Far from life Far from God Jesus has come near to you Jesus has brought you near to him So live near. And free. And alive. And go the far places in your world. And witness that Jesus is near. Amen.
Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to save us from our sins? I believe
Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to bring you life and to bring you home into his kingdom? I believe
Do you renounce Satan and his kingdom and all his evil works? I do
And will you turn from your sins and obey Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit? I will
Will you now lay your life down and be buried in God’s love? I will
Last Sunday, Wyatt received baptism. One of the perks of being your boy’s pastor is that you get to participate front and center in these sacred moments. I was knee deep in the baptismal waters, my arm around his shoulders (and that’s where I hope to always be, wading into his water, standing next to him). With joy, I laid priestly hands on my son and said holy words, In the name of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, be buried in Jesus’ death…
Baptism is many things, but three things at least – and all three are about belonging. In our baptism, we declare that we belong to Jesus and to Jesus’ kingdom. In baptism, the church declares that we belong to the community, this family of faithful storytellers. And, most importantly, in baptism the Spirit declares that we belong to the Triune God. Baptism is really more about what God is doing than about what we are doing. God has marked us, come after us, loved us to death. And life.
Because this whole thing is a communal affair, the entire community renews our baptismal vows before the new vows are taken. In a way then, with each new baptism, it is as though we are being baptized anew. The last question of the vows, the words that are spoken just before we put a body under the waters, echoes for me today.
Will you now lay your life down and be buried in God’s love?
The verbs in this question are passive. Will I lay down? Will I be buried? Will I surrender the illusion that I can pull my life together? Baptism is something I receive, not something I do. I don’t baptize myself; another baptizes me. I don’t finagle my way into the church; the community simply gives me a wide welcome. I didn’t snag a ticket into God’s kingdom with my spit-n-shine resume. God isn’t lucky to have me. God came and got me because God is kind and because this is what God does – God comes and rescues.
So this is the question my baptism asks me: Will I lay down and drown in love? Will I drown?
Will I hold my ground and guard my self-interests in my marriage – or will I drown?
Will I wallow in selfish guilt about what my poor fathering choices say about me, or will I surrender every shred of image and reputation and just love my boys, now, today? Will I protect myself – or will I drown?
Will I keep distance from those I’m sure to disappoint or those who I think will leave me lonely – or will I drown?
I choose to drown.
I surrender the image of the put together husband, father, writer, pastor, friend. I choose to drown.
I am probably not as smart or brilliant or witty or insightful or artful as you are. I choose to drown.
I will probably never write a bestseller. I choose to drown.
This week… May you gather up everything that you cling to as if your life depends on it…
Your reputation, your energy, your creativity, Your business skills, your beauty, your contrary nature. Your fear and your skepticism and your greed. Your story. Your hurts. Your hopes. Your desires that have turned into demands. Those things you hide from others, And those things you judge others by.
May you gather up these things – and everything that holds you back from being free… Your caution that someone may do you wrong. Your concern that you may get it wrong. Your haunting fear that God may be wrong. And in a defiant, courageous, child-like act, May you fling them all aside – And run to Jesus And walk with Jesus to the Cross. And die. And then wait in death’s dark tomb. Wait in death’s dark tomb. Wait…for Resurrection to break in.
All Souls, our just-forming church community in Charlottesville, has a new virtual home. It’s definitely a transitional site, as we are – well – in transition. If you want to stay connected with what is happening with our community, you can find it here.
Three months ago, we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. The transition has been slow and bumpy and beautiful and rich. It takes years, I think, to truly be part of the fabric of a place. But we are on our way. We love our city. We love our neighbors. We love the conversations we are having and the people we are meeting.
We are helping to form a new church community here, and I’m eager to introduce our new tribe to you:
We are just in the early stages, meeting people and learning our city’s story. Some friends have moved with us, and a few more are coming over the next months. A few new C’ville friends are joining in. We imagine the formation of All Souls will be slow and prayerful with lots of listening and paying attention to what it looks like to be a people living with open hearts toward each other and toward our city. You can peek at our new web home, though we probably won’t have much up there for a bit.